Michigan got its first taste of the Big Ten road wars at Minnesota on Thursday night. The Wolverines savored it, nailing down a gritty, 63-60 win over the Golden Gophers.
Five three-pointers by freshman Zak Irvin and some clutch free throws down the stretch put the Wolverines over the top, in a game that came down to the final shot.
Minnesota bulled its way to an 8-4 lead through the opening five minutes, taking advantage of muscle on the boards and turnovers by the Wolverines. The Gophers' Elliott Eliason recorded a pair of putbacks, using his 6-11, 240-pound frame to go up and over Michigan's front line.
An Andre Hollins' three-pointer helped run the margin out to 15-7, before the Wolverines began scrambling back. Caris LeVert's driving layup and Glenn Robinson III's close-in bank, followed by a Zak Irvin three, slashed the margin to one, 15-14, past the midway mark of the first half.
A pair of Robinson free throws pushed the scoring run to 9-0 and gave the Wolverines their first lead since 2-0. They ran off 11 straight before the Gophers scored, and moments later, Irvin's second three-pointer put Michigan up 23-21.
The Gophers responded with a 6-0 run, but Michigan tied it again on a Nik Stauskas three with 1:12 remaining in the half. Hollins' driving layup sent Minnesota to the halftime locker room up, 30-28.
Minnesota moved out to a 34-30 edge in the opening three minutes of the second half, but the bigger news involved Robinson heading to the bench with an ankle injury, not to return. The Gophers began feeding Eliason, who began pounded layups and intimidated shooters at the other end.
Irvin's third three slashed Minnesota's lead to 36-33 with just under 15 minutes remaining, and Eliason's third foul seconds later sent him to the bench. A pair of Derrick Walton free throws pulled Michigan within one.
Jordan Morgan put the Wolverines up, 40-39, with a shot in the key, before picking up his third foul. And with 9:42 to play, the teams stood deadlocked at 41-41.
Eliason, with a double-double already, picked up his fourth foul at 9:02. Irvin's fourth three-pointer, a minute later, put Michigan up 44-42, but Malik Smith answered with a triple of his own. So Irvin drilled another the very next time down the floor.
Jon Horford's layup gave the Wolverines their biggest lead, 53-49, with under five minutes remaining. But Minnesota clawed back to within one, 53-52, on three straight free throws, the last at the 3:44 mark.
A back-door jam by Stauskas put the Wolverines up by three, but two Deandre Mathieu free throws made it 55-54 Michigan. Stauskas then fed Horford for a jam, boosting the edge back to three with 1:49 left. Michigan forced a turnover, locking down on defense and causing an errant pass out of bounds.
Walton connected on two free throws with 1:18 remaining, giving U-M a 59-54 advantage. Stauskas hit 1 of 2 free throws with 36 seconds left, but Malik Smith buried a three nine seconds later, making it 60-57.
Stauskas appeared to get hit, then tripped, but no foul was called, and the ball was originally said to go out of bounds off him, giving it to the Gophers with 21 seconds left. After a monitor check, the officials reversed the call.
Walton got fouled, and missed both free throws with 20.5 seconds left. But Hollins missed a point-blank shot with 14 seconds remaining. Horford rebounded, got fouled, and nailed a free throw with 12.4 remaining to put Michigan up four.
Smith drew a foul on a three-pointer, making all three free throws with 5.6 seconds left. Stauskas nailed two free throws with 4.5 seconds left, and a final Mathieu three went awry, giving Michigan a huge Big Ten-opening road victory.
Irvin led the Wolverines with 15, while Stauskas scored 14 with seven assists. Horford came up with a big game, tossing in 14 points with nine rebounds, while Walton managed seven points, four rebounds and four assists. Hollins and Smith each scored 12 for the Gophers, with Eliason recording 10 points and 10 rebounds.